In our continuing series of ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Alan Parker’s Voodoo Noir Angel Heart.
The Eighties were fascinated by the Fifties. There were chart-topping reissues of Wonderful World, there were Levi adverts and in movies Stand By Me, Diner and Back to the Future played on an ever hungry nostalgia for the period. Even Billy Joel revived his career with doo-wop ditty Uptown Girl. But for me the best take on the era came from one time British commercials director Alan Parker. His dark noirish fantasy begins in a wonderfully realized 1955 New York, with Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel, a gum shoe with a sleazy commitment to his job, permanent stubble and a thing about chickens. Hired by Louis Cyphre (Robert de Niro) to find dance band crooner Johnny Favorite, Harry finds himself roughed up and bounced from Harlem to the bayous of Louisiana as his quest takes in fortune tellers, evangelicals, good old boys, corrupt cops and practitioners in the dark arts. Haunted by fearsome dreams of an elevator, the Private Eye only just manages to keep on top of things, but when he also falls for Evangeline Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet) you know things are going to get bloody.
Parker consistently made beautiful grim looking films. No one does grit quite as well in commercial cinema. Far less fond of the sheen than compatriot Ridley Scott, Parker also made consistently downbeat films, from the nightmarish view of a Turkish prison in Midnight Express, to the dirty end of fame in … well Fame, even when he made a kids movie, it was a weirdly filthy gangster pic – Bugsy Malone was a musical to boot.
Angel Heart is possibly his best film. The performances are terrific, with great cameos from Charlotte Rampling, Brownie McGhee and Robert de Niro himself, and a towering Mickey Rourke in his disheveled gone to seed perfection. Alongside Rumblefish, the best performance of his tragically curtailed career. With a haunting theme by Trevor Jones, those saxophones played by Courtney Pine, Angel Heart is the cool noir to set aside Blade Runner as the most inventive reinventions of the genre.